There’s a young woman in the senior class at Tougaloo College in Mississippi who has hit the financial wall.
“She’s a high honor student, a leader on campus who has done everything right. But she and her family are simply out of money,” said Dr. Beverly Hogan, President of Tougaloo, which is one of the historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that dot the southern portion of the United States.
The student, whose name was not released by the school, will be one of the targets this spring of the CESA scholarship aid program that the UNCF (United Negro College Fund) has developed with great success over the past three years to help final year undergraduate students who need money to finish school.
CESA is an acronym for Campaign for Emergency Student Aid and UNCF hopes to raise $5 million this academic year for the expressed purpose of helping college seniors pay off their tuition and fee balances so that they can graduate.
“It’s important to remember that the average family income of my students is $29,000, which is nowhere near being able to fund a college education,” said Dr. Walter Kimbrough, President of Philander Smith College, an HBCU located in Little Rock, AR.
When looking at the HBCUs, it is important to recognize that in addition to educating students from low-income families, the schools also must succeed without deep endowments.
“The CESA program came about because member schools told us that a number of graduating seniors simply couldn’t find the money to finish their studies,” said John Donohue, Executive Vice President at UNCF. “We thought that helping these students graduate was something that would resonate with corporations, foundations and individuals.”
Donohue and UNCF were right. In 2010, the campaign raised $5 million. The funds were sent to UNCF’s 38 member HBCUs to help deserving students finance their last year of school. If anything, the need is greater this year.
“The CESA funds have been a god send. Over 20% of our graduates could be helped by CESA funding,” said Pearl Algere-Lonian, Director of Financial Aid at Xavier University of Louisiana. “Those students who are trying to reach graduation, have hit the economic wall and have nowhere else to turn are grateful to find this program.”
College officials say that federal loans and grants don’t cover the costs of an education, these families generally can’t afford to make up the differences, and personal loans and special federal programs have dried up in this recession.
UNCF released a group of letters they received from students who graduated last year. The theme in the letters reinforces what college presidents are saying.
“Without this scholarship, graduation was not a possibility for me due to financial difficulties,” said Dana Marie Heinlein, who graduated from Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida last spring. She was a nursing major and is now working as a registered nurse and plans to go to graduate school.
Going to graduate school is an often expressed theme of CESA scholarship recipients. A look at the statistics tells you why. According to UNCF, HBCUs graduate over half of the African American professionals in the United States and about half of the African Americans who graduate from HBCUs go on to graduate schools or professional schools.
Tougaloo College President Hogan said that a whopping 40% of African American lawyers and doctors who practice in Mississippi are graduates of Tougaloo.
What all leaders at HBCUs emphasize is that today’s economy is making things significantly more challenging for the families of the low-income students that their institutions serve.
“We don’t want to believe this in America, but the truth is these young people are up against it. Their families are suffering because of job loss or reduction in hours, and our students have a strong commitment to family,” said Dr. Kimbrough. “The student will often choose helping his family over finishing school.”
And when students are forced to leave school because of finances, even in their senior year, more than half the time, they never return to finish their studies and get a degree.
“We can and must do better for these young people,” said Dr. Kimbrough who praises the CESA program for helping students avoid “stumbling at the finish line” and achieving graduation.
And the sense of family pride when a student does finish is palpable. Dr. Kimbrough points out that although his institution graduates about 100 students every year, there are often 3-to-4 thousand people at the graduation.
“It’s a family affair. Our graduates often represent the first person in their family to graduate from college. Everyone wants to celebrate that,” said Dr. Kimbrough.
For that young woman at Tougaloo, and for many other graduating students at HBCUs, they wait and worry this year. Where will they find the money to pay their fees and finish their education? As UNCF works to raise at least $5 million through its CESA program in the next several months, it is the face of that young woman and hundreds of others that they want donors to see.
References: UNCF CESA Donation Page http://give.uncf.org/cesa